Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Predicament (03/01/12)
TITLE: A Fine How Do You Do
By Jack Taylor
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The itch was deeper this time. The octogenarian worked his right hand under the snow white waterfall of hair and patiently scratched at the irritation just over his heart.
His hazel eyes were still keen as he watched the distinctive wardrobe of the three administrators huddling under the shady branches of a gnarled olive tree. Others began to join them.
The nervousness of the conspirators was obvious as their heads twitched back and forth when anyone came within hearing range. It was clear that the trio had not noticed him lurking in the balcony shadows. Neither had any of the newcomers. It would only be a matter of time until the rumoured decision was made.
On days like this, the wise one longed for the homeland of his youth. The hum of his mother’s voice, the boisterous laughter of his age mates jostling in sport on the streets, the unforgettable smells of the market and the kitchen. The strolling forms of simple maidens doing simple tasks without fear. The time when men spoke truth and honoured those in authority.
It had been 65 years away from home, faithfully serving under different leaders, faithfully ensuring that everything was accounted for. His wisdom, insight and impeccable integrity marked him as too valuable to release. And so he stayed. There was nowhere else to go.
Only a week ago he had overheard the first whispers of conspiracy as he rested in the fountain garden. The gurgle of the water, flowing down between the paws of life sized lions and into a rippling pool, covered his shuffling feet as he moved away from the words he did not wish to know. But it was those words which bound him now to lurk in the shadows and listen.
His thoughts wrestled within him.
There had been clear signs all along if he had paid attention. The accounting books not placed back exactly as he always put them. The strange requests for project budget reviews which his secretaries had reported. The faint scuffle of feet outside the door as he knelt to pray three times each day.
There were also the sideways glances from passers-by and the looks of apprehension whenever he met with any of his immediate subordinates. The signs were there all right.
Just when the old man thought he had seen enough, two more figures slipped out of a nearby grove and joined the throng. A shiver ran down his spine. Apart from himself, there was no other authorities more entrusted with the ear of the king than these two. The pathway was set. The end would be soon.
He was watching a pair of lily white swans gliding on a lazy pool of the river when the messenger dropped to the ground beside him. His eyes fixated on the prancing gait of a noble satin-black stallion on the far side of the water. It ran free within its boundaries as he had been permitted. This messenger would tell him how his freedom had been ended.
“Speak truth, messenger. What does the Almighty Darush proclaim for his faithful servant.”
The tremor was clear in the servant’s voice, even though the servant attempted to fulfill his duty with dignity on his knees. “O mighty Belteshazzar, chief of wise men, seer of dreams, one in whom the holy gods reside – may the holy ones deliver you from all evil this day.”
The aged one reached under his beard to ease the itch that regained its earnestness. “Speak.”
The voice of a trusted friend gained courage and released the dreaded message. “In accordance with the unalterable laws of the Medes and the Persians, so proclaims the mighty Darush, ruler of the world.
“With the unanimous suggestion and advice of all my royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors, let it be known that for the next 30 days, if anyone in all my kingdom prays to any god or man except me, then that violator will be thrown alive into the den of lions.”
The swans took flight at an unseen presence. The stallion rose and pawed the air in defiance. A peace settled into the oasis.
The stairs seemed steeper this day. The sun a little less warm on his back. The path home a little less friendly. He wove deliberately by the two dozen tawny beasts hungered for the night ahead. Their roar reached his heart.
But only for a moment. His knees ached to find their rest.
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